Friday, October 25, 2013

Post-Shutdown Legislative Update

Grassroots call: A Path for Post-Shutdown Advocacy
Presented by the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs
Oct. 25, 2013

Legislative Update Remarks, as prepared:

Hi Everyone.  My name is Leslie Woods and I serve in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. 

I'm going to quickly speak about the budget deal Congress passed last week to open up the government and prevent default on the national debt.

Last week, after 16 days of a government shutdown and one day before potential U.S. default, Congress passed H.R. 2775, which reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling. The Senate passed the bill 81-18, and the House passed it 285-144. All of the House Democrats and 87 Republicans voted for the bill.  It was a bipartisan vote in both chambers.

So first, it's worth noting what was not in the deal. The deal did not defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The deal did not delay the Affordable Care Act. The deal did not have any spending cuts included as a condition for raising the debt ceiling. These were mostly clean extensions of government spending and a debt ceiling increase. That said, preventing a Congressionally created economic catastrophe is not exactly all that worthy of celebration; but it is important.

So, what was in the deal? The deal mostly sets up a new set of deadlines for Congress to reach the next deal. The legislation passed last week funds the government at current levels through January 15, 2014, and raises the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014, but Congress won't have to raise the debt ceiling again until March or even later because the Treasury can use extraordinary measures, as it did in this most recent situation, to buy more time. The bill also included language on income verification for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

And while not written into the legislation, the deal also created a budget conference committee to negotiate a budget for the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year and to address sequestration, which is Washington-speak for the across-the-board spending cuts we’ve been living with this year.  This Committee must report back to Congress with a budget framework by December 13.

The committee includes the following members in the House: Paul Ryan (R-WI-1), Tom Cole (R-OK-4), Tom Price (R-GA-6), Diane Black (R-TN-6), James Clyburn (D-SC-6), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8), and Nita Lowey (D-NY-17).

The Senate appointees are the entire budget committee: Murray (D-WA), Wyden (D-OR), Nelson (D-FL), Stabenow (D-MI), Sanders (I-VT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Warner (D-VA), Merkley (D-OR), Coons (D-DE), Baldwin (D-WI), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Sessions (R-AL), Grassley (R-IA), Enzi (R-WY), Crapo (R-ID), Graham (R-SC), Portman (R-OH), Toomey (R-PA), Johnson (R-WI), Ayotte (R-NH), and Wicker (R-MS).

This round of budget talks could play out in one of three ways.

First, the committee could emerge with a big, multi-trillion dollar, decade-long budget deal and succeed where all previous bipartisan commissions, groups, and committees have failed. If you think this sounds optimistic, you’re instincts are good. This would be a very heavy lift and probably the least likely outcome.

In the second scenario, the committee could come up with a smaller deal that resolves the overall funding level for fiscal year 2014 and replaces some or all of the sequester for one, or even two, years. If this happens, there are two issues to keep an eye on: the overall funding level and the makeup of any package that replaces sequestration. The overall size of the budget they agree on will determine the amount of funding available for international poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance programs, WIC, Head Start, and all the other anti-hunger and poverty discretionary programs. If the committee comes up with a plan to replace sequestration, we will be watching to see if it is a balanced fix that includes new revenues and protects important anti-poverty programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid.

Finally, the committee could emerge with no deal. At that point, Congress will have until Jan. 15 to prevent another shutdown and potentially address sequestration.

We must continue to urge members of Congress to pass a faithful budget that adequately funds programs that combat hunger and poverty, and replace sequestration with a balanced plan. Your work on this and faithfulness in creating a drumbeat demanding just and compassionate budget solutions is extremely important, especially in the next few weeks.

Thanks.  That's all I have, so I'll pass it back to Amelia.